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Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Omega Silva

Omega Silva’s decades of medical work, as well as her personal battles with cancer, have convinced her that having the option to end suffering is of paramount importance.

Retired Washington, D.C., physician Omega Silva, who lives with three cancer diagnoses, taught and practiced medicine for over 50 years, served as the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and was former president of the American Medical Women’s Association. She has been on board as an active advocate for medical aid in dying with Compassion & Choices since nearly the beginning.

“In contrast to many other doctors, I never felt a physician’s only goal is to keep people alive no matter what. I think you need to look at the quality of life they have and what they think life is. Maybe life isn’t being on a respirator or having an NG [nasogastric] tube just to stay here a few more days,” she explains. “It was early on in my career that I came to grips with death, but a lot of physicians would rather not talk about death at all. I had to confront death early in my family too: My uncle got shot in his laundromat, and then his wife died shortly after that, and even their son died — he got cancer. What in the world is a 23-year-old doing with kidney cancer that kills him within a month or two? It happens though.”

Recently, Dr. Silva has provided written and spoken testimony to lawmakers, recorded public service announcements for Compassion & Choices to educate D.C. residents about end-of-life options, and participated in the National Academy of Sciences workshops on medical aid in dying. But she has filled her life pursuing numerous interests. Once an aspiring fashion designer, she made all her own clothes from the time she was in junior high until she was a second-year resident. And she and her husband, both fond of trains, belong to the National Railway Historical Society and ride the rails across the United States and Canada. “I’ve done a lot that has nothing to do with medicine!”